Gender and Policy Center observance of Juneteenth – June 19, 2020

Bonnie Stabile, Director

Governor Northam has designated Juneteenth as a holiday in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where our Gender and Policy Center at the Schar School of Policy and Government resides, and George Mason University leadership has declared this day to be an opportunity for reflection, awareness, understanding and education. That sense of purpose will not end for us on this day. It will carry us forward, as it reflects our mission statement and is carried out in our research, and roster of ongoing  events.

The day marks a celebration born of pain, in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and so many others who have suffered similar fates; and in the disproportionate impact of the pandemic along racial lines. Though our center is expressly focused on the investigation of the causes, effects and context of the underrepresentation of women in the public sphere, we well understand that all oppressions and violations of justice are overlapping and interrelated.

Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in the 1980s to describe the intersection of race and gender as political and social identities. More recently she started the #SayHerName campaign to bring awareness to the plight of black women in the face of systemic and institutionalized racism, such as the unfathomable death of Sandra Bland while in police custody after a traffic stop in Texas in 2015.

Recent crises have exposed that the effects of inequality can be measured dramatically in the common public policy measures of morbidity and mortality. These are not mere clinical, bureaucratic terms – they make evident the disproportionate death and suffering of our citizens as determined by their race, gender and socioeconomic status – which violates our principles of justice and equity and threatens democratic principles.

Our scholarly work, in the classroom, and in our research, will continue to employ frameworks such as intersectionality and social construction that can help advance understanding. We commit to keeping an open mind to new evidence, viewpoints, voices and methodologies that can lead to better policy solutions.

To recognize the importance of this day, the Governor also urges us to celebrate the multitude of African American achievements. I am proud to say that, since the founding of our center in 2017, we have hosted an array of groundbreaking African American women whose work has made, and continues to make, a substantive difference in the lives of students and citizens.

Dr. Jenn Jackson, now on the faculty of the Maxwell School, spoke on a GAP panel on environmental deregulation where she emphasized the importance of acknowledging the tangible effects of policy and systemic processes on peoples lives.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has now represented the District of Columbia for 15 terms, spoke from the Schar School stage on the importance of increasing women’s representation in elected office.

The Honorable Diana Becton – the Immediate Past President of the National Association of Women Judges, and the first African American woman to be elected district attorney in Contra Costa County California – has also joined us at Schar. She brought to our attention that 95% of elected prosecutors across the country are men, and the vast majority of those are white.

Virginia Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), the first African American majority leader in the Commonwealth’s history – and, I am proud to say – one of our GAP Advisory Board Members – was with us on a panel just last year which asked the modest question: “Can women save democracy?”

Delegate Herring recently posed another question of import: “will we be bold and upright the wrongs of slavery and institutionalized racism and be persistent in our quest from now on, or do we just let this opportune moment pass?”

The Schar School’s Gender and Policy Center does not intend to let this moment pass. We commit ourselves to bringing the force of scholarship to bear in investigating, understanding and addressing disparities across society.

We affirm that we will not tolerate racism, sexism, misogyny or hatred in any form. We will seek to understand and enlighten, through scholarly investigation, the many ways in which these pernicious forces manifest. We will contribute to the study, design, implementation, monitoring, and assessment of policy solutions that achieve measurable good, justice and equity.

Our tagline is “We mind the GAP” and not only gender gaps are of concern to us.